I'd really like to learn how to play pen-and-paper RPGs. I know that it takes a few players to actually sit down and play, but I'm not at all sure where to find more gamers.
How do I find existing groups to join?
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What the answer comes down to is "exercise your social networks, both online and offline." Be both looking for gamers/groups of gamers you can join and also registering your interest so that groups of gamers interested in a new player can find you.
Do you care what game(s) you will play, can you host, can you drive to a game and if so how far, etc? You need to decide on this so you know whether "I found a D&D 4e game that meets in a library in Hoboken 60 minutes away" would be good or not. This helps you refine your pitch when you talk to other gamers from "I wanty the game" to "I'm a [new/experienced] gamer looking for [any RPG, a D&D game, prefer D&D 5e but am open to others, etc.] within [walking distance, a short drive, 120 minutes, remote only, etc.] of [where you are]. Also note what you have to provide - "I can provide a gaming location," "I don't mind GMing," "I am new but enthusiastic and really want to learn from an experienced group..." Note limitations that the group really should be aware of, like "I am allergic to cats" or "I'm a minor" or "No Republicans."
Definitely use online resources.
Get off your chair.
There's also a variety of play-by-post (forums, email, etc.) and play-by-chat (including virtual tabletops and Roll20) if you just really can't get people together in person; all of these have LFG sections. For more resources there, Finding online RPG players for a play-by-chat RPG Campaign?, Where can I advertise for players for my play-by-post game?, and the play-by-post and play-by-chat tags.
Meetup.com is a good place to start. Just do a search on RPG, Role Playing Games, Dungeons and Dragons; that sort of thing. You'll probably find a group nearby.
Message boards like ENWorld, Knights and Knaves Alehouse, Dragonsfoot, etc. are also good places to start. They usually have "gamers seeking games" sections and the like.
By going beyond the gamestore. Seriously, I consider this post and its earlier iterations on RPG.net classics in how to find players.
Bullet points of the process he describes:
Two notes of my own:
2 above: yes, ask non-gaming friends and colleagues. Don't be embarrassed but do have a better explanation than just "want to play D&D". Invite them like you would a poker night and don't emphasis that it has be more than once (first one's free).
4 above: Starbucks, bookstores, lots of fast food places, other coffee shops, and laundromats are the big spots here. Also, make an HTML version and post to Craigslist and local activities websites.
Another source is Obsidian Portal.. It is, to me, a superb source for multiple campaigns and game types. The message boards need some work, but it is a very active community.
Also, if you're willing to invest in some time to learn how it works, RPTools has a very active community and a lot of gamer classifieds for a variety of different campaigns.
Now if only one of these sites could give me the time needed to play... sigh
There is a way to actually play pen and paper RPGs online. The best website (as far as I feel) is Roll20.net. This website acts as a virtual tabletop, where you can play a number of pen and paper RPGs, with all of the dice already on the website. Plus, you can play with people from all over the world, with voice chat and many other fun gizmos built into the system. When you're signed in there is a link, up near the top, where you can find campaigns you may be able to join. Here is a link to the looking for group forum. This forum shows starting and current sessions that are looking for extra players. You can select time and days you are open for play, and look for numerous games, or just a one shot adventure. If you are new to a game, you can even narrow the results to sessions designed to be friendly to first time players.
With this website, I would also suggest you try using Myth-Weavers to create your character sheets, since most Online Game Masters like to have all of the player information available to them. This website makes it easy to share your current character-sheet for a large number of games online. Most of the math is also automatically done, to make character generation faster, and since it is a free online software, you save a lot of money on paper and ink.
However, back to the topic at hand, if you really want this personal connection that you make when playing in person, I would suggest that you look up your local hobby and comic book shops(online locator linked), as they tend to host one or two RPG games every week, and even if they don't, it is likely you will find someone who knows where to find such games. If you don't know where the hobby shops are, or the players there are simply too advanced for you to keep up (happened to me the first time I went to one), NearbyGamers is a very good place to start. It has a large selection, and it makes it easier for you to set up in person meetings.
Local game stores are a good place to find people. Many stores have tables set aside for people to run games in-store, and often there will be corkboards where groups looking for new players will put up notices. If the store owner is a roleplayer, they may be know people personally who are looking for new players, or be otherwise able to help you just by word of mouth.
If your nearest game store is far enough away that you can't drop in easily, call to find out what the place is like and whether they often host roleplaying groups or events. Ask if there are regular events at the store—many stores have regular drop-in game nights or host events like D&D Experience.
After moving to a new city I found a lot of people to play with by attending local gaming conventions. Many conventions host a living campaign such as Living Forgotten Realms for Dungeons & Dragons or the Pathfinder Socity for Pathfinder. Look on warhorn.net for these events. Often there will be intro. mods geared for new players.
Playing at a convention gives you the opportunity to meet and play with a lot of different players and judges. After a con or two you may even find people to recruit into a home campaign or be invited to play in one yourself. At the very least you get to play a tabletop rpg while you search for players...
Consider joining a roleplaying organisation. I joined a local Danish one called Avalon, which is great.
First I tried finding people on facebook, only to realize that facebook mainly consists of people that I already know, and I was looking for new people, not existing ones.
Go out there, find a group. If you dont like what you find, look again. They are literally everywhere and often openminded and goodhearted.
What about where you work (if you work)? That's how I found my group 10 years ago! We're still gaming strong and having a blast.
I've also gone the route of posting to boards. I gamed with two groups, one was okay, another was wonderful then we kind of drifted apart.
I found that going to the local comic book store was the best place to get info because well… that was the game store :) Just talking to the employees gave excellent feedback as to who plays what game. I almost joined a group in progress but at the time it seemed too exclusive.
For me… it was the group of friends I already associated with that ended up taking the bait and starting up a campaign with me. It just took a few hang out nights and oddly enough; showing them this video about 5e that convinced them.
There have been some good suggestions here and a little more diversity won't hurt. You can also try www.FindGamers.us. If you live in the United States, one of it's territories or on an American foreign military base. Basically anywhere the Usa has assigned a zip code.
Update: Find Gamers also supports postal codes for Australia, Canada and Great Britain. Germany and France are being tested but should work fine as well.
It matches you with other gamers based on your zip code but also has a listing of gamers only interested in on-line gaming. You'd need to build a gamer profile with your Genre and Game System interests but thats very easy.
FindGamers not only supports Roleplayers but also Wargaming, not too many sites do that. And I probably should say that I know the site works, because I'm the admin.
Be prepared to be the game master/leader/whatever. Download a couple of free rulesets ("Basic Rules" or "QuickStart Rules") - the legit versions, of course! - and get some idea of how some popular games work. Naming no names. But D&D Basic Rules are legit and free on the Wizards' site (e.g. only, Wizards of the Coast did not pay me for this post).
I know you said you're looking for existing groups - and feel free to ask for this explicitly in your efforts - but be aware that proactive is the only way to go.
I agree with some of the other answers, find out what social media are active in your locale (and - crucially - social groupings, see next point) and post some offers of a beginners' game on there.
One jumping-on point could be the board and card games scene. Go along anyhow and just bring your print out of the [insert popular RPG] quick start. Mention you're looking for a group to join. There's a lot of overlap.
As others have said, put up a short note in your local games' store, comix store, youth club, anything public where you think you'll find some fellow players. Keep it simple, add some fun clipart and put a throwaway email address there for gaming purposes only in case you get emails that you don't want.
Be prepared to invest a little time into what amounts to "dating" gamers. All the online safety rules apply here. It's a good idea to suggest meeting up at a neutral public place e.g. the local game store to chat.
For those who want to do online play only, you can jump into a campaign immediately using a platform like fantasygrounds.com, where there are always tons of ongoing online games and a schedule for their meeting times.
Alternatively, I agree that meetup.com is great to advertise your game - even an online game - then use an online meeting platform (Skype, GoToMeeting, Zoom) to meet and interact.
Or if you prefer play-by-post you can email each other. I find this to be better suited to the storytelling aspect of the game, and you will do a lot of typing in your spare time. It's a bit unwieldy for combat unless you and all your players have email/text access in order to respond throughout the day. A possible platform for collaborative storytelling might be a GoogleDoc, with the DM owning/editing the doc, and players commenting or suggesting on the doc to ask questions or state their next move.
One of the best places to play in person RPG is at your local game shop. Local game shops usually run card games and RPGs of all types. Plus, a few ritzy ones I've been in my area serve a really great latte.
You can hit the map navigator on your phone and search "game store", and something should pop up in the area.
Whether online or in-person, RPG gaming groups are like rock bands - they break up frequently, and only the special ones succeed at long term success.
Just be kind, and don't have high expectations.
Facebook also has local gaming/meetup groups in a lot of different cities - I run one for Montreal and Eastern Canada, both places are frequent destinations for players seeking a group to join, or existing groups looking to bolster their numbers. Meetup.com has similar content in this vein.
...That's if you're up for jumping into an existing situation - if you're looking for people who have little or no experience you could always see if any of your social circles have any people interested in learning to play as well - I've easily GM'd over my "Gladwell quota" and in my experience a lot of people prefer to play with people of a similar experience level, and it can be a little daunting being the "newbie" at a table full of veterans (especially if the vets aren't exactly welcoming or patient--this happens far more than I'd like to admit within the gaming community, sadly.)
As someone mentioned above (if we weren't in pandemic times) I'd suggest going to a local con--tables are often grouped together there at experience level and it can be a great way to make new and possibly life-long friends in the community.
Lastly, Roll20 has a specific feature that allows people to both advertise for a group, and another that allows GM's or groups to advertise open spots--if you're not adverse to playing online this can be a good route to explore.
I know this is an older question, but I thought I'd point out that D&D Beyond has a few suggestions:
I think all the other answers here about meetups, online exchanges and so on are great. I have two ways that I’ve not seen listed, that worked for me:
Broadcast your Interests. When I went to University, I wore a T-Shirt sporting three Nazgûl riding in Front of Mt. Doom, printed from of a Middle Earth RPG sourcebook. This is something only another Roleplayer would recognize. One of the other students did, also new in the city like me, and we’ve played for years together.
Talk with people about it. I was new in another city where I had moved for work. At a large halloween party I told a friendly goth I was chatting with about my hobby. Turns out he’s a role-player too! He introduced me to his GM who also was in attendance. They invited me over for their next session, and we played for years together and are in touch to this day.
I think people who love role playing games often are interesting and enjoyable. This hobby is a great way to find cool people to hang out with. Don’t be shy about it.